Presence & Breath

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PresenceSoul searching, spirituality, meditation, and all those good things are a big part of my life. Personal growth is a bit of an obsession of mine, and I love to learn new things and try new practices as part of my personal development. In the past, I’ve posted about meditation, which I practice daily, and today I want to write about two practices that are closely related to meditation: presence and breath.

As I mentioned in my post a couple of weeks ago, last year I participated in this awesome group coaching program focusing on eating disorders and body image issues. The foundation for this work was very soul-centered, which is one of the reasons why I was drawn to it in the first place. Two of the first modules we worked on were about presence and breath, so I’ve been learning about and implementing these two practices for a while. Due to daily stress and anxiety (I’m an introvert who can get pretty bad social anxiety), I recently decided to revisit presence and breath with the intention of making them firm fixtures in my life.  

Being present on the daily is a challenging endeavor. I’m still at a place where it takes dedicated and constant observation of my thoughts and feelings to shift into presence. The cool thing about this practice though, is that you quickly discover that in those fleeting moments of full presence, it really is a rewarding and perspective-shifting experience. I find this especially true as someone who is trying to:

  • Connect with my body on a deeper level,
  • Be more aware of my life and how I show up day in and day out, and
  • Be more positive and optimistic in general.

Breath is a huge part of practicing presence. I don’t think you can have one without the other. Really think about it – breathing is this involuntary act that we do constantly to stay alive. But when you really hone in on it and focus on it with intent and curiosity, it can become a great tool that helps alleviate stress and promote wellness. Breathing can literally cause a state change in your body. I’ve found breathing to be really useful when it comes to:

  • Meditation: Focusing on my breath can help me drop into a meditative state quicker, and go deeper into my meditation.
  • Stress/Anxiety: I’ve started to use breath to help curb stress/anxiety. When I feel myself getting overwhelmed, I’ll stop and take a few deep breaths until I feel more centered and less anxious.
  • Disordered Eating: It’s impossible to binge if you’re present (and focusing on your breath). Most of the time, if I want junk or am heading toward binge autopilot, it’s because of stress or some other #donotwant emotion that I’m trying to suppress with a quick state change – hence the magic of breath.

So how do you start practicing presence and breath?

I started out by setting daily alarms on my phone, usually for 9AM, 1PM, and 7PM. When the alarm would go off, I’d take a moment to breathe and center myself and then check in with myself to see if I needed a shift or to do anything (drink water, walk away from my desk, cord cut, etc.). At first it was challenging, especially for the first two alarms that went off at work. I’d often be too busy to stop, so I’d just shut off the alarm and keep working. BUT when I actually started to commit to these practices and respected the alarms and daily check ins, I noticed such a difference in my mental and physical states that I now do presence/breathing check ins frequently throughout the day without using any alarms.

As for the literal practice I use, it goes something like this:

  1. I close my eyes and take three deep breaths. I favor 6-3 breathing (inhale for a count of 6, hold for a count of 3, exhale for a count of 6, hold for a count of 3, repeat).  Sidenote: If I’m at work when I do this, and people are around, I’ll head to the bathroom, otherwise if I’m by myself in the office, I’ll just stay at my desk.
  2. Take inventory. Mental inventory is when you check in with your mindset and emotions. Are you feeling sad? Anxious? Angry? Physical inventory focuses more on your body and visceral state: are you hungry? Thirsty? Tired? Sometimes I take inventory of my surroundings, just noticing what’s going on around me: the conversations, the colors, the furniture, the light, etc.

There are so many benefits when it comes to presence and breath. The biggest benefit of presence is also the meaning of it – to just be in the here and now, where everything is okay, the past is long gone, and the future hasn’t happened yet. The benefit of breath is that you can really hone it to become a tool for your health and wellness. It can up your meditation game and help you learn to alleviate stress and anxiety – those are some game changers right there.

I think there’s something magical in that such simple practices can have a truly profound impact on your overall health and happiness.

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